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Orioles sign Adam Frazier to one year, $8 million contract

He’s good at defense, doesn’t strike out much, and almost never hits the ball hard

Division Series - Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners - Game Three
This picture of Adam Frazier not making a catch sums up my feelings on the signing.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Let’s start with some good news. The Orioles signed a guy. The bad news is that it’s not really good news because the guy is recent Mariners second baseman Adam Frazier, who does not appear to make the imagined 2023 O’s roster any better than it already was. The team announced the signing officially on Thursday afternoon within minutes of reports about it trickling out to the media.

The front office obviously disagrees with my jaded assessment, or they wouldn’t have signed Frazier. Mike Elias and company are a lot smarter than me. But I don’t see it. With, presumably, Gunnar Henderson set for third base, Jorge Mateo for shortstop, and Ramón Urías set for second base, what do they get out of Frazier that’s worth signing him for one year and $8 million?

If we suppose Frazier’s a utility guy, why pay him that much? Additionally, the Terrin Vavra fan contingent will be wondering why the Orioles didn’t just let Vavra rip in this role instead? I have no answer for either of these questions. Frazier undoubtedly looks like an improvement compared to Rougned Odor’s role on the 2022 team, but with the arrival of Henderson and the presumed sliding to second of Urías on top of the plethora of near-MLB prospects, the 2023 roster projection was already past that.

The Orioles get the veteran lefty bat who can also play some outfield who they’ve supposedly been looking for, one imagines. Frazier started games at five different positions last season, though the bulk of his time was at second base. Over a seven-year MLB career, he’s right about at league-average batting - .273/.332/.392 batting, or an OPS+ of 99 - but was well off that number in 2022, OPSing just .612, or 20% below league average.

You can make this make sense, at least in that Frazier doesn’t look like a guy who sucks, if you think about him playing more in the vein of his 2021 performance. Two seasons ago, he batted .305/.368/.411 between the Pirates and the Padres. A team can use a guy who gets on base that much. Will Frazier, who turned 31 yesterday, go back to looking like his 2021 self? I guess that’s what we’re all rooting for now.

Seriously, though, there’s a lot of blue on this guy’s Statcast page from his 2022 performance. Blue is not good. Third percentile average exit velocity. 25th percentile xWOBA, 11th percentile xSLG. All you can really say is he doesn’t strike out a lot (12.8% in his career).

The biggest notable red (positive) thing for Frazier is that he’s in the 90th percentile for Outs Above Average. So for all that I’ve snarked about the signing, let’s not lose sight of that. He does have a multi-year pattern of looking good on that defensive metric. Frazier has been 73rd percentile or better every year since 2018. Good defense is always good, and perhaps even more valuable in the post-shift era.

One way you can more obviously make the move make sense is if you imagine it’s a precursor to either Mateo or Urías being traded. Or one of the infield prospects who can be reasonably predicted to have a 2023 debut in their future - Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz, or even Connor Norby - could be traded for pitching.

My experience with baseball roster moves is that imagining that a signing of so-and-so sets up a different move later is usually wrong. It’s probably that the GM just likes whatever guy a lot more than you do, and likes the guy you like less than you do.

With this signing, the Orioles 40-man roster is now full. Any subsequent additions to the roster between now and spring training will require someone to be subtracted. Tyler Nevin might not want to put down a nonrefundable deposit for Sarasota lodgings in March.

Whether Frazier is good or not, the Orioles still need to get one more sure thing in their starting rotation. The available options are few now. Maybe they’ll turn back around and surprise us after we’ve all given up on any good external additions at this point.